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Browsing, search habits evolve, impacting newsrooms

By Dr. Merja Myllylahti

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Auckland, New Zealand

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It is the end of the year and predictions for 2022 are starting to appear. One of the most interesting collections of the outlook for the New Year is from NiemanLab. I especially like the text by Sam Guzik. He argues news companies need to think about how search functions are developing and how people find the news in the future as Artificial Intelligence (AI) assistants and voice commands become more prevalent.

As noted in its Digital 2021 Report, Hootsuite found 23% of people around the world are using voice commands to find information. In China, the figure is 32%, India 29%, Nigeria 26%, the United States 23%, and the United Kingdom 23%. Perhaps not surprisingly, younger generations are the most likely users of Siri, Alexa, and other voice tools to retrieve information.

If people use search engines to find summaries of the news, new media companies need to consider how that impacts the paywall models they implement.
If people use search engines to find summaries of the news, new media companies need to consider how that impacts the paywall models they implement.

Guzik asks: If we receive news and information directly from AI assistants, why would people visit news sites anymore. “How will we fund our newsrooms if users’ browsing habits change and they don’t hit paywalls as they do today?” If new kinds of searches are offering people nicely packaged summaries of information, how can newsrooms respond to that? These are, needless to say, relevant questions.

Already, younger generations like packaged and snackable content on social media. When I poll my university students about their news consumption, a vast majority of them tell me that they get news snippets from TikTok or Instagram. When I ask them where and how they search information for their assignments or their stories, the predictable answer is: “I Google it.”

Google has laid out a vision of a new kind of search engine that promises to summarise information from multiple sources on the Internet, and it could be based on voice commands. So, if Google is offering a summary of news, is it going to pay news companies for it? How we search and find information via search engines is crucial for news companies’ revenue models, especially related to the development of news payments.

According to Hootsuite, Google has a 92% market share in the search engine market. The company argues that it is not important for news discovery because only a fraction of its search queries relate to news. However, News Media Alliance says that 39% of Google’s search and 16% of results on the most-searched queries are news.

The Alliance says that, from January 2017 to January 2018, traffic from Google search to the news sites rose “by more than 25% to approximately 1.6 billion visits per week in January 2018.” It argues that “news is becoming increasingly important to Google, as demonstrated by an increase in Google searches about the news.”

While Google and the news media disagree about the statistics, news publishers see AI as one of the most important enablers of journalism. In its predictions for 2021, Reuters Institute’s report found that almost 70% of news publishers named AI as the most important technology for journalism in the next five years. The Reuters predictions for 2022 are not yet out, so it will be interesting to see in the new year how this view has evolved.

About Dr. Merja Myllylahti

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